Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On the Other Side of the World

Now that you all, including me, know what Andrew's been up to, it's time to share my less interesting activities since he left.

Mostly, I've been working long hours. I have three IELTS test-prep kids that I must finish before I leave China. This means teaching 3, 3-hr classes a day, often covering the same boring crap. It's pretty tedious. But I suppose it's better than the alternative, which is going home and cooking a measley meal by myself and watching House, again by myself. During the weekends, things get a little more interesting.

The first weekend after Andrew left, I joined Morgan et al. for a baozi cooking class in Beijing. Andrew and I had been dying to do this, but it had never been offered on our days off and we could never get a big enough group together to do a private class. Well, with Morgan we were able to make it work, and I finally learned how to make my favorite Chinese dish: steamed pork buns. It was a lot of work, and I'm not sure I'll ever make them again, though Andrew will probably force me to hone my skills.

I also attended several dinners and a party, also courtesy of Morgan's invite. There was a very interesting Hawaiian style birthday party for one of the English-speaking Chinese girls that runs with the ex-pat crowd, and the theme brought out some interesting outfits. I particularly liked Brian's super-tight board shorts, and some random guys scoop-neck pirate shirt. Classic. I also enjoyed the Chinese version of the Hulu, performed to Shakira's "This is Africa" song. As Chris put it: "They were Chinese girls, performing a Hawaiian song, to a Colombian singer's song about Africa." You can't get much more multi-cultural than that.
Me, Brian, and Morgan
Check out the scoop neck
Cool Mongolian restaurant; yes, that' s leg of lamb roasting at our table
Us girls wore our new qipaos to the restaurant (Phylinda, Victoria, me, Morgan)

This past weekend I took my last vacation. I traveled with Victoria to Beijing and we spent the weekend shopping for souvenirs and eating our way through all the western restaurants. For lunch we had crepes and French macarons (the waitress even spoke French!) and dinner was Mexican followed by Italian the following night.

View around Houhai

In between eating, we walked our butts off (I developed several blisters on my feet as a result), picking up touristy kitsch to give to our friends back home. I managed to find another set of dragon/phoenix tea cups to replace the ones I had bought the last time I was in Beijing, but had broken. The one tourist thing we did do was go to the zoo, which was packed, even on a Monday morning. I'm afraid we didn't pay much attention to the animals, as all the children squatting in public was a bit distracting. Seriously, there were plenty of toilets at the zoo; this was completely unnecessary. I did manage to pet a baby zebra! He was cute.

Tonight I'm going out to see the new Pirates movie. If Johnny Depp can't cheer me up, nothing can.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New York, New York

I, Andrew, officially left China on April 28th at 12 pm.

I, Andrew, officially returned to America after a 4 year hiatus on April 28th at 12:19 pm.

My flight only took 19 minutes! Technology sure has changed since I've been away...

I'm glad to be home, and I'll be even more glad when Nicole also returns. She's currently finishing up with some test-prep classes, so she should be back in the States around mid-June. I'll withhold comments about China until she's safely in the US.

So why did I come back earlier? Well, when we signed the contract, I informed our boss that I might have to leave early to start grad school at Columbia, where the program begins in May. So, here I am. I was accepted to Columbia. More precisely, I was accepted to the Peace Corps Fellows program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Through this program, I take an intensive summer course, then I begin teaching high school biology full time in September, while simultaneously taking night classes to get my MA. This program lasts 3 years, so all my CA peeps, I'll see you again in 2014!!

My first stop back in the States was LA, to catch up on the family. It was good seeing my brothers, but, honestly, I think I got enough exposure to last another 3 years :) If absence makes the heart grow fonder, presence makes the heart remember past annoyances.

I helped my mom pack up the house, especially focusing on the disaster that is "Nicole and Andrew's stuff".

I was very proud to see my dad invested as a federal bankruptcy judge. His courtroom is cool, and his office is huge.

He took me and his old friend Paul on a trip in his new Jeep Rubicon, 4-wheeling all over the place.

I managed to get in some quality time with Nana and Steve, where they showed me the awesome renovations of their place, and we got to eat the mountainously cheesy salads at Espiaus.

I even managed to visit the annual community fair at Santa Monica's Clover Park.
I adopted a worm. His name is Wormy.

I also enjoyed going to the Downtown LA Artwalk, thanks to Shalimar and Bryant. It's a cool scene and you should check it out if you haven't already. There were lots of people walking around, lots of gourmet food trucks (which are apparently all the rage now). In addition, you might just see some art on the art walk.

I also got to spend some good guy-time with my buds, Matt and Maurice. We played a fun zombie card game and saw the new movie Thor, which is good if you like comic book movies (which we do). After the movie, I feasted on chili cheese fries at Johnny Rockets, and we got to see the new Santa Monica Place (The old one was an aging closed mall. The new one is a hip, trendy open air mall).
Me and the Guys

After imposing on the best friend a guy could ever have (he stayed up all night to drive me to the airport at 4am. Thanks Matt!), I flew to New York, which took way longer than 19 minutes. My loving cousin, Rebecca, picked me up and took me to her place. We then went to dinner at O'Neill's Irish Pub, where one of her friends was having a birthday party. There was live Irish music, decent fish and chips, and decent cider. All in all, it was a great night.

The following day, I surveyed the Columbia campus, then hit up Times Square. I met up with Rebecca and we toured Battery Park, saw Lady Liberty herself from afar, then hit up Ground Zero and Wall Street. It was sobering looking at the construction at the World Trade Center, and, as Rebecca pointed out, amazing to note how little damage was done, comparatively, because the towers imploded instead of falling over. It was also nice seeing the new Freedom Tower rising up like a phoenix from the ashes.
Columbia and Rodin's famous statue of The Constipated

Rebecca and me in Times Square

Freedom Tower rising from the ashes. Supposedly it'll be 1,776 feet tall.

I'm the kinda guy who takes the bull by the horns.

In case you were wondering what the butt looks like. I did.

This guy's really worried about getting a flat in New York

Monday was the start of my program. I met all the other fellows (all 19 of us). We played the obligatory ice breaker games, but, as we were allowed to create our own, they were more fun than usual. My team created one called "The Four Winds Blow" in which everyone's sitting in a circle and there's one person standing (with no corresponding chair). The standing person says "The four winds blow for people who ..." and you can put whatever you want in the "...". To those whom the "..." applies, they must get up out of their chair and find a new one, a la musical chairs. The person left chair-less then takes over. Rule: you can't sit in your own chair or the chair next to you. It was fun, especially with things like "The four winds blow for people who were in Peace Corps" (which was everybody).

I'm one of two fellows that is going to teach science. Most of the others are Social Studies and English. One of the coolest things about being in a program with other PCVs is that you don't have to feel self-conscious about talking about where you've been and what you've done. It's also normal to talk about the random diseases you've all had (giardia, malaria, amoebas to name a few), and the weird parts of animals you were too polite not to eat (boiled sheep head, raw meat dipped in bile, fried frogs). It's also relaxing to not have to pretend that Peace Corps Volunteers actually work. I was surprised, though, that the vast majority of the other fellows were actually teaching full time during their service, unlike me, who only did it as a side thing. They actually had nearly normal work hours. Despite coming from all over the world (from Mongolia to Africa-East, West, and South, to South America to Pacific Island Paradises), you'd be surprised to see how similar all of our experiences were.

The coolest part of orientation was the Scavenger Hunt. We were sent in teams to take pictures of a bunch of different things throughout New York, from Wall Street to Union Square to Central Park to Harlem. My team almost won, but, due to a recount, came in second.

We had a nice welcome barbecue to meet all the current and past fellows.

I finally moved out of Rebecca's place in the Bronx and into my dorm room at the International House (it's where my dad stayed when he went to Columbia Law School). It was raining heavily the day I moved, so I was soaked to the bone as I was checking in. Now that I've had a couple of days to organize and reorganize my room, do laundry, and buy essential supplies like a wine glass and soap (in that order), I'm starting to mingle with the other denizens of the I House. There're activities so we can get to know each other, so yesterday I went out to the American Museum of Natural History and saw the big dinosaur skeletons, an awesome movie about the Big Bang narrated by Liam Nieson (a.k.a. God/Aslan), located in what looked to be the Death Star, and a ginormous blue whale sculpture in the Ocean Hall. We stayed until closing time, at which point a couple of us took a trip to walk along the High Line (a derelict raised railroad platform, abandoned for decades, that used to run straight into a factory in the Meatpacking district, now turned into a beautiful pedestrian park). We also wandered through Greenwich Village (and saw Rod Steward eating at a restaurant), Little Italy and into Chinatown, where we had some awesome dumplings for dinner. It was the first, and only, non-rainy, sunny day I've had, so I'm glad I made the most of it.

I House people walking to the museum

The Death Star

Freaky dinosaur

The High Line

The High Line going through a building

A view of the Empire State Building from the High Line

A view of the Statue of Liberty from the High Line

Little Italy

The following day (today), I went on another trip through the I House to Japan Day at Central Park, where I got to do some origami, get my face painted, get my name done in Konji, dance a Japanese dance, watch robot-sumo matches, and learn some Japanese (Nihon Daisuki!). I also saw some things I missed on the scavenger hunt, like the John Lennon Memorial and Bethseda Fountain.

He's writing my name: An De Ru

Facepainting. Someone went a little crazy with the lipstick!

Sonic the Hedgehog


Language classes. Ganbere Nihon

Anime costumes. They turned people away who were carrying real swords.

Hello Kitty. Goodbye innocence.

I House peeps

Imagine all the people ... who take pictures of the John Lennon Memorial every day
(the writing on my cheek means "strength" btw)

Others went off to the Gugenheim museum, or back to the I House to watch a movie, but I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of mine who is visiting from France. Diane is the daughter of Cathrine and Pierre, with whom, you might recall, my parents switched houses to vacation in France. Nicole and I also stayed at her place in Paris a couple of times. Diane is visiting with her boyfriend and his family, and they've just finished Canada and the East Coast and are off to San Francisco, Yosemite, and LA.

So, that's what I've been up to. Tomorrow, the real fun begins. I have to observe a class from 9-12, then attend summer classes from 1-9. Yikes. That's what they mean by "Summer Intensive Training".

Please say something in a comment, or better yet, send Nicole an e-mail saying anything. She needs some luvin'.

If you want to come visit me, (and I know you do), e-mail me or comment and I'll let you know how to reach me. Otherwise, you're welcome to come to the last annual Wallace "4th of July" BBQ that is actually on the 25th of June. See you there!